I did it! I followed my new rule for gadget buying. i.e. Divide the price of the gadget you desire by $100. Then consider the purchase for the resultant number of days.

As it turns out, with the Aspire One, I considered for somewhat longer than the 5 – 6 days. Since the advent of the Asus EeePC last Christmas, I’ve considered getting one of these Ultra-Mobile/Netbook/Websurfer PC’s.

I even test drove the powerful little Ratheon Everun Note (7” device, with dual-core and touch screen) when I was at the PDC last month. But I found the keyboard and screen on the 7” device just too small for practical use.

In comparison, the Aspire One with it’s 9” (technically 8.9”) screen is at that sweet spot of practical useability, and significant portability. The 3/4 size keyboard is a pleasure to type on, and has great tactile feedback.

Over the last couple of months it seems that every manufacturer and their partners have discovered this sweet spot – where performance, portability, and price point meet – and there is no lack of choice on the market. This is why I considered the purchase for that little bit longer than the Gen X gene of “instant gratification” usually allows.

I knew once I received CFO approval, it would be a while until I get to replace/upgrade this device, so I wanted to ensure I got the right one.

Fortunately all of the available choices offer much the same spec:

  • Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor (btw this is significantly more performant than the 1GHz processor in the Toshiba R500)
  • 512MB – 1GB RAM on-board. The processor/mobo will support 2GB, but most devices have 512MB soldered on, so you’ll be limited to 1.5GB
  • 4 – 16GB SSD or a 80 – 160GB HDD
  • SDHC slot which is great for memory expansion
  • 7” – 10” screen at 1024 x 600px
  • 3 cell (2200 mA/Hr) – 6 cell (4400 mA/Hr) battery
  • WiFi
  • 1.3 MPx webcam
  • USB ports
  • Mic/Headphone Jack

However, not all of them are created equal. So you’ll have to prioritise criteria. For me it’s about: Usability, Portability, Battery Life, Price, then Performance; pretty much in that order.

The competitors to the Acer include the new Dell Inspiron 9. Great little machine, although I really didn’t like the keyboard and it is pricey compared to the rest of the class. The HP Mini-note was another “looks good at first glance” contender, but colleagues of mine have commented with dismay at the heat it generates and the lack of battery life for such a portable device. (<2 hrs). Although it does have the highest screen resolution of the competition.

The Asus 901 and 1000H both compete here, and to be perfectly honest I was really tempted to get one of them. There is something to say about being the first to market, and having a years worth of feedback on this new genre of machine. My rationale for the Acer was somewhat tenuous, it’s true I got the Aspire for a better price, but the other reason was not having to get only a black or white machine, the only choice with the Asus and Dell offerings.

When I was pulled into Dick Smith’s the other day to have another look at all of the machines, I noticed that Toshiba have one now too. Pretty much the same specs, but again their price was just over budget, and I found the keyboard hard to get used to. Inaccuracies all over the place.

By the time I publish this, Lenovo’s entrants to the class will be in market. They too look very good, but just weren’t available when I was looking.

The MSI Wind was the final PC I considered. Here the extra size (10” vs 9”) for the same resolution screen and price was the kicker. Having said that, all the reviews I’ve read, and colleague’s whom have one, consider the Wind a top device.

This is one of the first times, where your choice really is subjective. The components are almost identical, bar a little spruiking here and there. Unlike buying a “traditional” laptop today, where you really have to compare apples with oranges (ok, ok, I know. But English was invented before the Mac too)

If you are in the market for one, don’t do the purely online thing. Get to the stores and try them out. Fire up Notepad and type on the keyboard, take a USB with a movie or music and listen on (your own) earphones. Take a picture with the webcam. Really put it them through some paces at least, and see what feels good for you. Also, check out the prices not only online, but also through the traditional retailers. There are good prices to be had right now, and most of the major stores will match a published price.

Am I happy with the final outcome? Absolutely! I was allowed to open it on my wedding anniversary last Wednesday and took it with us to Vanuatu over the week-end. All of the photos, and blogs from that trip were composed on the Aspire One. More on the roadtest in another post.